Mighty Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 9

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Bill Everett, Vince Colletta, John Verpoorten, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4220-1

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with the Cosmic Unknown was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour hardback tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents Kirby’s final Asgardian exploits and the initial efforts of his successors. Taken from Thor #173-183 the sagas collectively cover February to December 1970, as universe-builder Jack abandoned the worlds he’d cultivated with Stan Lee for DC Comics and a cosmos uniquely his own…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble, the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas.

The astounding action begins here – after a fascinating and revelatory Behind the Scenes Introduction from Will Murray – with the earthbound fury of ‘Ulik Unleashed!’ (inked by Bill Everett) as the ferocious super-troll is sent to Earth by Loki only to be hypnotised into aiding old adversaries The Circus of Crime in the robbery of the century…

Single-issue adventures continue with an epic clash between Thor and a tormented young genius whose strength-stealing robot runs amok in ‘The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!’ before the last great epic of the Kirby-era hits its stride, but that’s a saga for another time and place…

Behind a Marie Severin cover ‘The Fall of Asgard!’ sees valiant Asgardian Balder and his Warriors Three allies Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg escape the clutches of lovestruck sorceress Karnilla only to confront the assemble hordes of giants and trolls marching on the Home of the Gods.

With All-Father Odin incapacitated by his annual Great Sleep, Loki has perfidiously seized the throne forcing war-goddess Sif to call Thor back home for perhaps the Last Battle…

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘Inferno!’ reveals the folly of the usurper as terrifying Fire-demon Surtur breaks free of his Odinian captivity to begin his pre-ordained task of burning down the universe.

With everything appearing ‘To End in Flames!’ Loki flees to Earth, having first hidden Odin’s sleeping form in the life-inimical Sea of Eternal Night. As Thor leads a heroic and Horatian last stand, Balder penetrates the Dimension of Death to rescue the All-Father just as Surtur fires up for his fulminating final foray…

Thor #178 (July 1970) is a landmark: the first issue created without Jack Kirby. Clearly a try-out or fill-in yarn, ‘Death is a Stranger’ – by Lee, John Buscema & Colletta – depicts the Thunderer snatched away from Asgard by the nefarious Abomination to an epic battle with the alien Stranger – an extra-galactic powerhouse who collects unique beings for scientific study…

The interrupted epic resumed in #179 (inked by John Verpoorten) with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as Thor, Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki. This issue was Kirby’s last: he left the entire vast unfolding new mythology on a monumental cliffhanger just as the Thunder God is ambushed by his wicked step-brother. Using arcane magic, the Lord of Evil switches bodies with his noble sibling and gains safety and the power of the Storm whilst Thor is doomed to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

Although what followed contained the trappings and even spirit of that incredible marriage, the heart, soul and soaring, unfettered wonderment just were not there any longer: nor would they be until 1983 when Walt Simonson assumed creative control with #337 (see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

Here, however, ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ introduced the radically different style of Neal Adams to the mix, inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott, as the true Thunder God was sent to Hell and the tender mercies of Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s body to terrorise the UN Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

In #181’s ‘One God Must Fall’ Sif leads the Warriors Three on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm whilst Balder struggles to combat the power of Thor combined with the magic and malice of Loki until Mephisto is thwarted. Then a cataclysmic battle of brothers on Earth soon sets the world to rights…

The new Post-Kirby era truly began with Thor #182 as John Buscema assumed the artistic reins and began his own epic run as illustrator with ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’ as the Thunderer is entangled in Earthly politics. When a young girl entreats him to rescue her father from the deadly Iron Monarch, the noble scion cannot refuse, especially as the missing parent is an expert on missile technology and is capable of making Doom the master of ICBM warfare…

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concludes with Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor can retrieve his mislaid mallet, but even after his deadly mission of mercy is accomplished, tragedy is his only reward…

Closing out this key transitional volume is the cover of the Kirby tour de force Tales of Asgard #1 and his unused cover for Thor #175 (inked by John Verpoorten) plus a Buscema house ad for the aforementioned clash with Dr. Doom.

The Kirby Thor is a high-point in graphic fantasy and all the more impressive for its sheer timeless readability, but the end was truly a new beginning and a testament to the sheer pulling power of the mightiest son of Asgard. These tales are a Fantasy fan’s delight and an absolute must for all devotees of the medium.
© 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Chic Stone, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta and others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851- 4566-0 (PB)                    978-0-7851-1183-2 (HB)

The monolith of Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now comes due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – also available in digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #31-40 plus the second giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive landmarks spanning September 1964 to July 1965 with Stan & Jack cannily building and consolidating a shared universe with the FF as the central title and most innovative series of that web of cosmic creation.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along brother – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Without any preamble the wonderment resumes here with the contents of Fantastic Four Annual #2 (September 1964) and Chic Stone inking ‘The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!’

A short (12 page) scene-setter, it momentously details how brilliant gypsy boy Victor Von Doom remakes himself into the most deadly villain in creation, ruthlessly surmounting obstacles such as ethnic oppression, crushing poverty and the shocking stigma of a sorceress mother to rise to national dominance and global status…

Following a fresh batch of rogues starring in ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’Super-Skrull, Rama-Tut, Molecule Man, Hate-Monger, The Infant Terrible and Diablo – plus pin-ups of Johnny, Sue, Ben, Alicia Masters and Reed, the past informs the present as the ultimate villain believes he has achieved ‘The Final Victory of Dr. Doom!’, through guile, subterfuge and mind-control but has in fact suffered his most ignominious defeat…

The monthly wonderment resumes with #31’s ‘The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!’ which precariously balances a loopy plan by the subterranean satrap to steal entire streets of New York City with a portentous sub-plot featuring a mysterious man from Sue’s past, as well as renewing the quartet’s somewhat fractious relationship with the Mighty Avengers

The secret of that mystery man is revealed in ‘Death of a Hero!: a powerful tale of tragedy and regret spanning two galaxies starring the uniquely villainous Invincible Man… who is not at all what he seems…

Supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’, ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’ follows, bringing the aquatic anti-hero one step closer to his own series as the team lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma who makes his debut in FF #33.

In ‘A House Divided!’ the team are nearly destroyed by Mr. Gregory Hungerford Gideon, the power-hungry Richest Man in the World after which (following a wry ‘Yancy Street Pin-Up’) ‘Calamity on the Campus!’ sees the team visit Reed’s old Alma Mater in a tale designed to pander to the burgeoning college fan-base Marvel was cultivating.

Incorporating a cameo role for then prospective college student Peter Parker, the rousing yarn brings back demon alchemist Diablo whilst introducing the monstrous misunderstood homunculus Dragon Man.

Fantastic Four #36 premieres the team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four’: a team of villains comprising The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for long) plus enigmatic new character Madame Medusa, whose origin was to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come…

Most notable in this auspicious, action-packed but inconclusive duel is the announcement after many months of Reed and Sue’s engagement – in itself a rare event in the realm of comicbooks.

Issue #37 finds the team spectacularly travelling to the homeworld of the shape-shifting Skrulls in search of justice or vengeance in ‘Behold! A Distant Star!’ They return only to be ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in FF #38: a sinister sneak attack and catastrophic clash of opposing forces with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in suitably epic manner.

Frank Giacoia – under the pseudonym Frank Ray – stepped in to ink #39’s ‘A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!’ wherein a suddenly-powerless Fantastic Four are targeted by an enraged Doctor Doom with only sightless vigilante Daredevil offering a chance to keep them alive. The tale – and this volume – concludes in #40 with ‘The Battle of the Baxter Building’ as Vince Colletta assumes the inking duties for a bombastic conclusion that perfectly displays the indomitable power, overwhelming pathos and undeniable heroism of the brutish Thing.

These are the tales that built a comics empire. The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another world and time.
© 1964, 1965, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 5

By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig with Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Dan Adkins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3493-0

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company was contractually tied to a limit of 16 publications per month.

To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man was joined by Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collectors Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thus his “premiering” in number #100.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the ultra- high tech armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning adventure and suspenseful drama this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-13, spanning June 1968 – May 1969 and also includes an educational Introduction from comics historian Dewey Cassell, running down the stellar career and achievements of debuting artist George Tuska. Also tipped in to enhance the reading experience is a comedy short gleaned from Marvel’s comedy pastiche magazine Not Brand Echh #2.

A new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, saw EC star Johnny Craig assume the art-chores. His first job is a cracker, as scripter Archie Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem is the monolithic killer robot built by her deranged father and the start of a running plot-thread examining the effects of the munitions business and the kind of inventors who work for it…

Goodwin and Craig then brought back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan in time to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour and consequently devolve into a monstrous menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3 and retool a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular tech-enhanced maniac was dying from his own powers and thought Tony would be able – if not willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5 another Golden Age veteran joined the creative team. George Tuska – who had worked on huge hits such as the original (Fawcett) Captain Marvel and Crime Does Not Pay plus newspaper strips such as The Spirit and Buck Rogers – would illustrate the majority of Iron Man’s adventures over the next decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

Inked by Craig, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity, determined to kill him before he can build the super-computer that eradicated mankind. Did somebody say “Terminator”…?

A super-dense (by which I mean strong and heavy) Cuban Commie threat returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next the sinister scheme begun way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bore brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in two-part thriller ‘The Maggia Strikes!’ and ‘A Duel Must End!’ as old Daredevil foe the Gladiator leads a savage attack on Stark’s factory, friends and would-be new love…

The saga also reveals the tragic history of mystery woman Whitney Frost and lays the seeds of her evolution into one of Iron Man’s most implacable foes…

A bold 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Tony Stark and Iron Man are the same person. Beginning with a seeming Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’, proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’ before climaxing in spectacular “saves-the-day” fashion as our hero is ‘Unmasked!’, this epic from Goodwin, Tuska & Craig offers astounding thrills and potent drama with plenty of devious twists, just as the first inklings of the social upheaval America was experiencing began to seep into Marvel’s publications.

As the core audience started to grow into the Flower Power generation, future tales would take arch-capitalist weapon-smith Stark in many unexpected and often peculiar directions. All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

Goodwin and artists George Tuska & Johnny Craig conclude their sterling run of solid science-flavoured action epics with the introduction of a new sinister super-foe in #12 as ‘The Coming of the Controller’ sees a twisted genius using the stolen life-energy of enslaved citizens to power a cybernetic exo-skeleton. Along the way he and his brother embezzle the fortune of Stark’s girlfriend Janice Cord to pay for it all. Of course, Iron Man is ready and able to overcome the scheming maniac, culminating in a cataclysmic climax ‘Captives of the Controller!’ as the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

As well as some Tuska original art pages and covers, this galvanic grimoire ends by supplementing and counterpointing the traumatic tension with a slice of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh #2 (September 1967). Here Roy Thomas, Don Heck & Dan Adkins pit clownish 20th century crusader the Unrinseable Ironed Man against a parody-prone 40th century stalwart fans will recognise even if here he’s known as ‘Magnut, Robot Biter!’

This is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1968, 1969, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 3 1967-1968: The Masters of Evil

By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0410-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bombast and Astounding Action… 9/10

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk. The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in trade paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #41-56, the first two Avengers Annuals, a crossover from X-Men #45 and pertinent vignettes from Not Brand Echh #5 and 8, collectively covering June 1967 to September 1967.

The first adventure is a historical and creative landmark as ‘Let Sleeping Dragons Lie!’ (inked by George Roussos) sees John Buscema assume the pencilling in an epic melange of monsters, insidious espionage and sheer villainy, as mad alchemist Diablo and enslaved artificial life-form Dragon Man attacks the team – Goliath, the Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and newly-recruited exile Olympian deity Hercules

The extended plotline continues in ‘The Plan… and the Power!’, as, with Diablo defeated, the team – now including Captain America – turn to rescuing reformed former soviet spy Black Widow from the Communist Chinese in #43’s ‘Color him… the Red Guardian!’

Having uncovered a world-threatening superweapon, the Avengers fight the battle of their lives as the saga climaxes in ‘The Valiant Also Die!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), a blistering all-out clash to save humanity from mental conquest.

Buscema had replaced Don Heck so the regular illustrator could concentrate on the debut Avengers Annual: a “49-page free-for-all” entitled ‘The Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin!’. Scripted by Thomas and inked by Roussos, this prodigious tribute to the golden Age Justice Society of America and All-Winners Squad saw Captain America, Goliath, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron Man. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Thor and the Wasp compelled to battle against the Enchantress Executioner, Living Laser, Power Man, Swordsman and the bio-mechanical behemoth Ultimo across many continents to save humanity from the oriental outlaw overlord’s boldest scheme of subjugation. It’s everything a fan could want from a superhero tale: sheer escapism, perfectly handled.

Also included are the ‘Bombastic Bullpen Biography Dept.’ page, pin-ups of Hercules, Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow, Avenger Mansion cutaway diagram ‘More Than Meets the Eye!’ and a fabulous tableau contrasting the original and new Avengers line-ups.

The regular monthly storytelling resumes with Avengers #45 – a ‘Blitzkrieg in Central Park’ by Thomas, Heck & Colletta – wherein the triumphant team are ambushed by the power-stealing Super-Adaptoid, after which a treacherous murder attempt by an old foe nearly finishes Goliath and the Wasp.

‘The Agony and the Anthill!’ (with art by Buscema & Colletta) is a taut, human-scaled drama, which began a long period of superb collaborations that would change the face of team-up comics.

Thomas was quickly establishing himself as a major creative force in comics and his tense, bellicose yarns were propelling John Buscema to the forefront of fan-favourite artists. To supplement his already large team the writer began interweaving appearances by the founding stars: regularly showing up: giving the impression of a small army of costumed crusaders lurking in the wings at all times…

‘Magneto Walks the Earth!’ (Avengers #47, December 1967 and inked by George Tuska) finds the malign master of magnetism returned from enforced exile in space to put his old band back together. That means recruiting mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch… whether they’re willing or otherwise…

Tuska takes on full art-chores for the second chapter ‘The Black Knight Lives Again!’, which introduces a brand-new Marvel Superhero, whilst furthering a sub-plot featuring Hercules’ return to an abandoned and devastated Olympus before #49 (pencilled and inked by Buscema) concludes the Mutant trilogy with ‘Mine is the Power!’

This clears the decks for the tempestuous 50th issue tussle as the team rejoins Hercules in restoring fallen Olympus by defeating the mythological menace of Typhon in ‘To Tame a Titan!’

In the aftermath the team is reduced to Hawkeye, the Wasp and a recently de-powered Goliath, and soon the Avengers find themselves ‘In the Clutches of the Collector!’ (#51 and illustrated by Buscema & Tuska), but the handy intervention of Iron Man and Thor swiftly sees the Master of Many Sizes regain his abilities. This is just in time to welcome new member Black Panther in the Vince Colletta inked ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’: a fast-paced murder mystery which also see the advent of obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper.

Next follows a slightly disconcerting cross-over and conclusion to an extended X-Men clash with Magneto (from issues #43-45 of their own title) which dovetails neatly into a grand Avengers/X-Men face-off.

In X-Men #43, arch-nemesis Magneto attacked the outcast teen heroes with reluctant confederates Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Toad, trapping them in his hidden island fortress. The next issue saw the Angel inexplicably escape and – after encountering a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero – headed for America for Avenger reinforcements.

Those episodes aren’t included here but X-Men #45’s ‘When Mutants Clash!’ (Gary Friedrich, Don Heck, Werner Roth & John Tartaglione) sees Cyclops also break free, only to encounter and defeat the highly-conflicted Quicksilver…

The fight latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, Buscema & Tuska) details Magneto’s defeat by and apparent death after his scheme to trick mutants and superheroes into killing each other backfires.

Issue #54 kicked off a mini-renaissance in quality and creativity with ‘…And Deliver Us from the Masters of Evil!’, which brought back the new Black Knight – accidentally recruited to a revived team of scurrilous super-villains – and finally gave Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis a character and starring role.

This was merely a prelude to the second instalment which debuted the oppressively Oedipal threat of robotic tyrant Ultron-5 in ‘Mayhem Over Manhattan!’ (inked by the superbly slick George Klein).

Captain America’s introduction to the 1960s got a spectacular and thought-provoking reworking in Avengers #56 as ‘Death Be Not Proud!’ accidentally stranded him and his comrades in WWII on the fateful night when Bucky died. This adroitly segued into 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 (illustrated by Heck, Roth & Colletta).

‘…And Time, the Rushing River…’ reveals how Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, Wasp and Hawkeye return from the tragedy-drenched past to a divergent present where they must battle the original founding Avengers team of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp to correct a reality manipulated by one of their deadliest foes in the new guise of the Scarlet Centurion.

Also included from that monumental release are a stunning Buscema pin-up of the entire team and fourth-wall shattering spoof ‘Avenjerks Assemble!’ by Thomas, Buscema & Frank Giacoia, revealing where the writer gets his ideas from…

The comedy hits keep coming as humour mag Not Brand Echh #5 offers the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’ by Thomas, Gene Colan & Tartaglione, reprising how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. The same creative culprits are responsible for ‘This Fan… This Forbush!’ from NBE #8 as the frankly feeble Forbush-Man joins the team to demolish time-bending baddie Dang the Conqueror

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are pages of original Buscema pencils, inked art and covers, a model sheet he produced in 1967 to get familiar with Cap and the team, plus unedited production photostats of pre-corrected covers. There’s even a Steve Ditko cover from Marvel Triple Action #47 (which reprinted Avengers #54) as well as Buscema’s cover from Avengers Annual #1; modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume 5.

Unceasingly enticing and always evergreen, these timeless sagas defined and cemented the Marvel experience and are a joy no fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers

By Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4401-4

Everybody loves a solid sensibly sensational team-up and, if you’re a comicbook fan, “discovering” a slice of previously unrevealed secret history about your preferred fictive universe is an indescribable thrill. So, what better than if you can combine both guilty pleasures with enjoying a rollicking four-fisted action rollercoaster ride, well written and superbly rendered?

Just one such concatenation of good things in one basket is Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers by Reginald Hudlin & Denys Cowan. Comic continuity is ultimately fluid and this yarn – originally released as a 4-issue miniseries between June and September 2010 – reveals the secret and tumultuous first meeting between the patriotic symbols of two embattled nations, but only nit-picking, devoted fans-boys need quibble over which (of at least three) “first contacts” this riotous romp describes.

The rest of us can simply hang on as a fabulous all-action clash unfolds before our very eyes…

The Black Panther rules over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted and unmolested by European imperialism into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth.

The country has also never been conquered. The main reason for this is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the nation. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, feline-empowered, strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Thor and Captain America

However, long ago as World War II engulfed the world, another Black Panther – the grandfather of the one we know best – met a far younger and more impulsive Sentinel of Liberty…

With the first two chapters inked by Klaus Janson the action kicks off in the middle of a furious as Gabe Jones – the black guy in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos – is just as startled as his white buddies to find a masked maniac dressed like an American flag pounding the crap out of the Nazis they’re being swamped by…

Although they initially think he’s a clown, the Howlers soon take to the naïve Star-Spangled Captain America. They have to, as the Top Brass think they complement each other and have ordered soldiers and superhero to work together from now on.

Meanwhile in Germany, Adolf Hitler orders his most elite warriors to invade a barely known African kingdom to secure supplies of a vibration-absorbing mineral crucial to the development of the Wehrmacht’s V-weapons. Arch-supremacist Baron von Strucker and his cronies expect no trouble from the primitive, sub-human non-Aryans, but the malign Red Skull has reservations…

When the Allies get word of the expedition, they quickly send their top team to stop the Nazis, but they are too late. The fabled Wakandans have already despatched the German expeditionary force with the ruthless silent efficiency that has kept their homeland unconquered for thousands of years…

As a shocked Captain America surveys the bloody handiwork, he is challenged by a warrior in a sleek black outfit, looking like a human panther…

Soon his amazement increases exponentially. Although seemingly barbaric and uncivilised, the Wakandans are technologically more advanced than America, capable enough to capture the Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos without a fight, and with a spy network that encompasses the world and has even gleaned his top secret civilian identity. Worst of all, the Black Panther kicks his butt when they inevitably clash…

Soon, however, the Americans are “guests” of the Wakandans, forced to watch as the next wave of Nazi conquerors attempt to overwhelm the nation. However, what nobody realises is that the Red Skull is in command now and the sacrifice of an entire tank division is part of his overall strategy to conquer the upstart Africans defying the might of the Third Reich…

Soon, the Howlers are on tricky ground: acting as unschooled diplomats and emissaries of their country and ideology. But Black Panther King Azzuri knows what they really want is a sample of precious, sacred Vibranium…

Until now Gabe has felt that he’s allied with the only non-racists in the US armed forces, but now Fury orders to get close to the Africans and secure some of the miracle metal at all costs. Stunned by the casual, unthinking racism of his superior and his white comrades, Gabe is torn by conflicting emotions. Especially as Azzuri has shown him great favour and a black-only promised land any negro living in America would die to live in…

The Nazis’ intent is also plain and the Skull’s true attack is not long in coming. As well as troops and planes, the Germans employ their own secret weapons – robotic war-suits and metahuman super-soldiers Master Man, Krieger Frau (Warrior Woman) and merciless sadist Armless Tiger Man. They are assisted by a traitor from Wakanda’s own dissident region: the mercilessly savage, cruelly ambitious Man-Ape

With issues #3 and 4 inked by Tom Palmer & Sandu Florea, the action roars into high gear as the German offensive achieves its goal of penetrating Wakanda’s defences and even sees the king’s sons T’Chaka and S’Yan (both future Black Panthers) attacked in the palace by a murderous assassin before being saved by the deeply conflicted Gabe…

And then it’s nothing but all-out war, picking up the pieces and adjusting to a new normal in a world that doesn’t know the meaning of the word…

Confronting head-on historical and contemporary issues of racism whilst telling a stunning tale of action and adventure is no mean feat, but Hudlin and Cowan pull it off here with staggering success. Flags of Our Fathers brilliantly contrasts the result of two national symbols in conflict and united in mutual benefit with style and wit, and still manages to tell a tale of breathtaking power and fun. Read it now and see for yourself.
© 2010, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 3

By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5953-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Everybody’s Truest Meaning of the Season… 10/10

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering November 1966 through September 1967 and re-presenting Daredevil #22-32 and Daredevil Annual #1, this third compilation (in both paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on Daredevil he initially kept the clipped, solid, almost chunky lines whilst drawing the Man without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Following a fond reminiscence from Colan himself – in an Introduction first written in 2005 -the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia and Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes whilst sharing focus with super-menaces Masked Marauder and Gladiator, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of crime organisation The Maggia but their plan to murder the Man without Fear to prove their worthiness goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending found our hero trapped in Europe, but he soon makes his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become the prime suspect in #24’s ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’ This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of England in Comic-books Award when a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the English hero’s name, Matt Murdock returns to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a crook dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time of ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was fully in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt Murdock, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing a fictitious twin brother Mike, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background was arch-villain Masked Marauder who was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once more clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein alien invaders’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crimebuster.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 begins a protracted and impressive epic clash with old Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde, complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the super-criminals DD masquerades as Thor only to encounter the real McCoy. Unfortunately, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Sadly, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Wrapping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive but rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil in ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Man without Fear quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric felon, plus his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog.

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is a short comedy tale ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: an Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’ plus a gallery of original art pages by Colan, Giacoia, Ayers & Tartaglione.

Despite a few bumpy spots Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1966, 1967, 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Bill Everett, Gil Kane, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5883-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Evergreen Entertainment… 9/10

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this second trade paperback (or eBook) volume covers his first few years as co-star of Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #59-79, spanning September 1964 to May 1966.

Way back then, the trigger for the Hulk’s second chance was a reprinting of his origin in the giant collection Marvel Tales Annual #1 (the beginning of the company’s inspired policy of keeping early tales in circulation and which did so much to make fervent fans out of casual latecomers). Thanks to reader response, Greenskin was awarded a back-up strip in a failing title…

Giant-Man was the star turn in Tales to Astonish, but by mid-1964 the strip was visibly floundering. In issue #59 – and kicking off the all-out action here with absolutely no preamble – the Master of Many Sizes is tricked by old foe the Human Top into battling the still-at-large man-monster in ‘Enter: The Hulk’.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman the clash is little more than a colossal punch-up, setting the scene for the next issue wherein the Green Goliath’s own feature began.

Following a full-page house ad for the debuting solo feature,‘The Incredible Hulk’ (TtA #60, October 1964)) opens with Bruce Banner still working for General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, despite the military martinet’s deep disgust and distrust of the puny milksop who had won his daughter’s heart. Banner is still aloof and standoffish, keeping secret his astounding condition: an affliction which subjects him to uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction.

The 10-page instalments were uncharacteristically set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, not New York, and espionage and military themes were the narrative backdrop of these adventures.

Lee scripted, Ditko drew and comics veteran George Roussos – under the pseudonym George Bell – provided the ink art. The first tale details how an anonymous spy steals an unstoppable suit of robotic armour built by the radiation-obsessed Banner, which concludes with a shattering battle in the next episode ‘Captured at Last!’

Cliffhanger endings such as the exhausted Hulk’s imprisonment by Ross’s military units at the end of the yarn would be instrumental in keeping readers onboard and enthralled. The next chapter ‘Enter… the Chameleon’ has plenty of action and suspense as the spy infiltrates Ross’ command, but the real stinger is the final panel that hints at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery – the enigmatic Leader – who would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis.

The minor Spider-Man villain works well as a returning foe, his disguise abilities an obvious threat in a series based on a weapons scientist working for the US military during the Cold War. Even the Leader himself has dubious connections to the sinister Soviets – when he wasn’t trying to conquer the world for himself.

Preceded by a titanic Jack Kirby Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of the Green Goliath, ‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ (Astonish #63, January 1965) provides an origin for the super-intellectual menace whilst setting up a fresh subplot wherein new cast addition Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. The action comes when the Leader tries to steal Banner’s new anti-H-bomb device from a moving train….

The next episode ‘The Horde of Humanoids!’ features the return of guilt-stricken sidekick Rick Jones who uses his Avengers connections to obtain a pardon for the incarcerated Banner just by letting the American President in on the secret of the Hulk! Ah, simpler times!

Free again, Banner joins Talbot on a remote island to test his hotly sought-after atomic device only to be attacked by the Leader’s artificial warriors – providing a fine example of Ditko’s unique manner of staging a super-tussle.

The battle continues into the next issue when Ayers assumes the inks and Banner is taken prisoner by those darn Commies. ‘On the Rampage against the Reds!’ sees the Hulk go wild behind the Iron Curtain: a satisfyingly gratuitous crusade that spans #66 – ‘The Power of Doctor Banner’ inked by Vince Colletta – and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’ (#67, and inked by Frank Giacoia).

His Commie-Busting fury finally expended the Hulk reverts to human form and is captured by Mongolian bandits who see a chance to make lots of ransom money…

Jack Kirby returned as illustrator – supplemented by Mike (“Mickey Demeo”) Esposito – in Tales to Astonish #68. ‘Back from the Dead!’ sees plucky Glen Talbot help extricate the tragic scientist – although he loses him again on the way back to America. Even so, Banner falls again into military custody and is ordered to activate his Atomic Absorbatron for one last test.

Yet again the process is interrupted by the Leader’s attacking Humanoids, but this time the Veridian Villain succeeds and the Hulk is ‘Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!’ …but only until the US Army bursts in…

Issue #70 saw Giant-Man replaced by the Sub-Mariner, making Tales to Astonish a title typified by aggressive, savage anti-heroes. Increasingly the Hulk stories reflected this shift, and ‘To Live Again!’ sees the furious Leader launch a 500-foot tall Humanoid against the local US missile base, with the Jade Giant caught in the middle.

Kirby reduced his input to layouts and Esposito handles the lion’s share of the art with #71’s ‘Like a Beast at Bay’: a minor turning point with the Hulk actually joining forces with the Leader. Next episode ‘Within the Monster Dwells a Man!’ then has Major Talbot getting ever-closer to uncovering Banner’s dark secret.

‘Another World, Another Foe!’ (with the great Bob Powell pencilling over Kirby’s layouts) details how the Leader dispatches Hulk to The Watcher’s homeworld to steal an ultimate weapon, just as an “unbeatable” intergalactic rival arrives. ‘The Wisdom of the Watcher’ resorts to all-out, brutal action with a shocking climax, and is followed by TtA #75’s return to Earth and to basics as the rampaging Hulk falls victims to one of Banner’s most bizarre atomic devices…

‘Not all my Power Can Save Me!’ sees the man-monster helplessly hurled into a devastated dystopian future, and in ‘I, ‘Against a World!’ (featuring pencils by Gil Kane moonlighting as “Scott Edward”) the devastation is compounded by a fierce duel with the time-lost Asgardian immortal The Executioner.

A true milestone occurred in Tales to Astonish #77 when the tragic physicist’s dread secret is finally exposed. Magnificently illustrated by John Romita (the elder, and still over Kirby layouts) ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ concluded the time-travel tale and revealed the tragic horror of the scientist’s condition to the military and the general public.

It didn’t make him any less hunted or haunted, but at least now the soldiery were in an emotional tizzy when they tried to destroy him.

With #78, Bill Everett began a short but lovely run as art-man (Kirby remaining on layouts throughout). To his very swift and last regrets, megalomaniacal scientist Dr. Zaxon tries to steal and tap the Gamma Monsters’s bio-energy in ‘The Hulk Must Die!’ and before his body is even cold, follow-up ‘The Titan and the Torment!’ conclude proceedings here with a bombastic battle against recently Earth-exiled Olympian man-god Hercules.

Although some of these adventures might seem a bit hit-and-miss, with visceral suspenseful thrillers and plain dumb nonsense running together, the enthusiasm and sheer quality of the artistic endeavour should go a long way to mitigating most of the downside. These tales are key to the later, more cohesive, adventures, and even at their worst – or most anonymised – the magic of Kirby, Ditko, Everett, Kane, Powell and the rest in full butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is an unadorned thrill to delight the destructive 8-year-old in everyone.

Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ms. Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Chris Claremont, Simon Furman, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, David Michelinie, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, Dave Cockrum, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Michael Golden, David Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9575-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. They’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell AKA Captain Marvel, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel#18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This second sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collects Ms. Marvel volume 1#15-23, relevant portions of Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11, Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Marvel Fanfare #24, circuitously spanning March 1978 to October 1992, and leads off with an effusive Introduction from latter-day Danvers writer Kelly Sue DeConnick before the game-changing dramas commence…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium.

The scheme swiftly culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (art by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’ courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek.

Here the utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine.

All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation. ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (inked by Bruce D. Patterson) resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Here they are presented in an originally untitled yarn dubbed ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg, followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the Avengers, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues).

Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, these snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton, scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly child begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer.

Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the World’s Mightiest Heroes whilst attempting to free the Brotherhood from custody.

In that attack Danvers’ mind and abilities are taken by power-leaching mutant Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now high-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’ promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and biographies of all the creators involved.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today.

These stories are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand up on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero stories…
© 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection: Once an Avenger…

By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9582-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Matchless Marvel Mayhem and Melodrama… 8/10

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows always the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressive stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

After Lee moved on, the team was left in the capable hands of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in hardcover, paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #21-40 from October 1965 to May 1967.

With this second collection the team – consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and his sister the Scarlet Witch – was already a firm fan-favourite with close attention to melodrama sub-plots, leavening the action through compelling soap-opera elements that kept readers riveted.

After debuting insidious infiltrator Swordsman in the previous volume, writer Stan Lee and illustrators Don Heck & Wally Wood – without pausing for creative breath – launched another soon -to-be big name villain in the form of Power Man. ‘The Bitter Dregs of Defeat!’ (Avengers #21) depicted his creation and the diabolical plan hatched with the evil Asgardian witch the Enchantress to discredit and replace the quarrelsome quartet. The scheme was only narrowly foiled in the concluding ‘The Road Back.’

An epic 2-part tale follows as the team is shanghaied into the far-future to battle against and eventually with Kang the Conqueror. ‘Once an Avenger…’ (Avengers #23, December 1965 and, incidentally, my vote for the best cover Jack Kirby ever drew) is inked by the wonderful John Romita (senior), pitting the heroes against an army of fearsome future men, with the yarn explosively and tragically ending in From the Ashes of Defeat!’ by Lee, Heck & inker Dick Ayers.

The still-learning team then face their greatest test yet after they are captured by the deadliest man alive in #25’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’ and forced to fight their way out of the tyrant’s kingdom of Latveria.

Since change is ever the watchword for this series, the next two issues combined a threat to drown the world from subsea barbarian Attuma with the return of some old comrades. ‘The Voice of the Wasp!’ and ‘Four Against the Floodtide!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia as the pseudonymous Frank Ray) is a superlative action-romp but is merely a prelude to the main event – issue #28’s return of founding Avenger Giant-Man in a new guise as ‘Among us Walks a Goliath!’ This instant classic introduced the villainous and ultimately immortally alien Collector whilst extending the company’s pet theme of alienation by tragically trapping the size-changing hero at a freakish ten-foot height, seemingly forever…

As Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch bow out and return to Europe to reinvigorate their fading powers Avengers #29 features ‘This Power Unleashed!’ and brings back Hawkeye’s lost love Black Widow as a brainwashed Soviet agent attempting to destroy the team.

She recruits old foes Power Man and Swordsman as cannon-fodder but is foiled by her own incompletely submerged feeling for Hawkeye, after which ‘Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!’ sees dispirited colossus Henry Pym embroiled in a futuristic civil war amongst a lost south American civilisation. The conclusion threatened to end in global incineration in the ludicrously titled yet satisfyingly thrilling ‘Never Bug a Giant!’

The company’s crusading credentials are enhanced next as ‘The Sign of the Serpent!’ and concluding chapter ‘To Smash a Serpent!’ (Avengers#32-33, with Heck providing raw, gritty inks over his own pencils) craft a brave, socially-aware epic.

Here the heroes tackle a sinister band of organised racists in a thinly veiled allegory of the Civil Rights turmoil then gripping America. Marvel’s bold liberal stand even went so far as to introduce a new African-American character, Bill Foster, who would eventually become a superhero in his own right.

It was then back to crime-busting basics as Roy Thomas officially began his long association with the team in #34’s ‘The Living Laser!’, but second part ‘The Light that Failed!’ again assumes political overtones as the light bending super-villain allies himself with South American (and by implication, Marxist) rebels for a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills.

The team’s international credentials are further exploited when long-missing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver return, heralding an alien invasion of the Balkans in ‘The Ultroids Attack!’ and ‘To Conquer a Colossus!’ (Avengers #36-37). Along for the ride and a crucial factor in repelling an extraterrestrial invasion is newly cured and reformed Natasha Romanoff – the sinister, merciless Black Widow…

Thomas clearly had no problem juggling a larger roster of characters as he promptly added Olympian godling Hercules to the mix, first as a duped and drugged pawn of the Enchantress in #38’s ‘In our Midst… An Immortal’ (inked by George Roussos, nee Bell) and then as a member from the following issue onwards, when the Mad Thinker attacks during ‘The Torment… and the Triumph!’.

No prizes for guessing who was throwing the punches in #40’s ‘Suddenly… the Sub-Mariner!’ as the team battle the Lord of Atlantis for possession of a reality-warping Cosmic Cube; a riotous all-action romp to end a superb classic chronicle of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights fables.

Augmenting the narrative joys is an abundance of behind-the-scenes treasures such as original art reproductions, production-stage pencilled page photostats and a fascinating sequence of “tweaked” cover-corrections. Still more extras include Tee-shirt art-designs by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia & Wally Wood plus earlier Kirby and Gil Kane Avengers collection covers modified by painters Dean White & Richard Isanove.

Unceasingly enticing and always evergreen, these immortal epics are tales that defined the Marvel experience and a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Masterworks volume 1

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-07851-3714-6

What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster?

Chronologically collecting the Jade Juggernaut’s earliest appearances, this titanic Trade Paperback tome (also available in digital editions) gathers Incredible Hulk #1-6, spanning May 1962 to March 1964.

The Incredible Hulk was new-born Marvel’s second new superhero title, although technically Henry Pym debuted earlier in a throw-away yarn from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). However, he didn’t become actually become a costumed hero until the autumn, by which time Ol’ Jade Jaws was not-so-firmly established.

Presumably on the back of the still-popular atomic monster trend in comics, The Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic but, despite some classic action romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again.

After six issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as they could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format in Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Cover-dated May 1962, the Incredible Hulk #1 sees puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the desert, perpetually bullied by the bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the world’s first Gamma Bomb test.

Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Dr. Banner stoically endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

In the final moments Banner sees a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically drives to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial sassy-mouthed resistance he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

In six simple pages that’s how it all starts, and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings or comicbook retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe that’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked…

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels right along with the man-monster and Jones subsequently kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting.

In the second issue the plot concerns invading aliens, and the Banner/Jones relationship settles into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the good doctor transforms and is locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stands watch helplessly. Neither ever considers telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ is formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inks Kirby; imparting a genuinely eerie sense of unease to the artwork. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably (to us readers at the time) changed to his more accustomed Green persona.

Although cleverly back-written years later as a continuing mutation, the answer was simply commercial: the grey tones of the monster printed unreliably on the cheap newsprint pages and caused all manner of problems for production colourists so it was arbitrarily changed to the simple and more traditional colour of monsters: a far more tractable shade of green…

The third issue presented a departure in format as issue-long, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster, with the story thus far reprised in 3-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’. Then Marvel mainstay of villainy the Circus of Crime debuted in ‘The Ringmaster’ with the Emerald Apparition mesmerised into working for a band of criminal performers…

The Incredible One goes on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ before sneaky Commies masquerade as invading aliens in second escapade ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 is a joyous exemplar of cataclysmic Kirby action, introducing immortal villain Tyrannus and his underworld empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’ after which those pesky and incorrigible Commies come in for another drubbing when our Jolly Green freedom-fighter prevents the invasion of Lhasa by ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these simplistic classics – some of the greatest, most rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the Hulk series was not doing well, and Kirby moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled all the art chores for final issue #6: another full-length epic and an extremely engaging one.

‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ has astonishing action, sly and subtle sub-plots and a thinking man’s resolution, but nonetheless the title (temporarily) died with the issue.

After shambling around the nascent Marvel universe for a year or so, first as the odd man out in the Avengers and thereafter as a misunderstood villain-cum-monster, the Hulk eventually got another shot at the big time and found a home in Tales to Astonish where Giant-Man (né Ant-Man) was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time…

The rest is history and the momentous meat of another volume and review…

Hulk Smash! He always was and with material like this he always will be.
© 1962, 1963, 2009, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.